Four seasons after Parks and Recreation first aired, the NBC multi-camera comedy has gone from drawing comparisons to The Office to one of the best comedies on television in its own right. The show has followed parks and recreation government employee Leslie Knope (Leslie Knope) on her adventures in small town politics all the way to the top - to Pawnee City Counsel. Along the way, she met Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott), and the rest is history.
Last week on Parks, Ben and Leslie took a huge step forward for their characters, and the show. Along with Parks and Recreation co-creator Michael Schur, Scott and Poheler had a chat with Buzzine's Rachel Heine to share their thoughts on the big moment, easter eggs in episodes, and a Breaking Bad crossover when Leslie Knope meets the parents.
Q: In the last episode of Parks and Recreation, there was a huge emotion moment for Ben and Leslie’s characters – the proposal. What was the vibe like on set that day, and what were you all feeling as you were shooting that scene?
Amy Poehler: When I read that scene I cried because I was so happy that I had my job at Parks and that I got to do that scene with Adam, and that Mike Schur wrote it, because I knew it would be great.
And it's very rare, you know, as an actor when you read a scene and you know it's going to be great, you can just kind of see it. And so when we were shooting the scene I was really excited that we were getting to do it, because I had really just been looking forward to doing it.
And I was really happy for Leslie, so I think the mood on set was a really kind of joyous one. I know even though it was kind of a sweet scene, I know Adam and I were really just happy to have such a well-written scene to get to do. And we care about our characters so we were kind of excited that this was happening for them.
Adam Scott: Yes, I feel the same way, I mean, I also just kind of felt like... this was a really big deal for all of us. I mean, we of course are well aware that these are fictional characters that we are playing on television. But I think we also want them to be happy and want them to be all right and we all care about them. I can say, speaking for myself that I care about them, you know, quite deeply and so, you know, knowing this scene was coming, it was… maybe a little nervous about it but mostly just really happy about it.
And happy to be able to do it and happy for the characters and, you know, so the day we were doing it, it was… it was like Amy said very kind of joyous but also there's a real feeling that this was very special, and we wanted it to be special for the fans and for the characters and we were all… it was exciting.
I thought it was really exciting, then when we did it we, you know, it was really fun and very happy.
Q: How long did you know that there would be a proposal? How did that ift into this season’s story?
AP: Well Mike no - Mike - when we were in D.C., right Mike? When we were in D.C. shooting...
Michael Schur: Right.
AP: ...stuff for the premiere, you writing that scene right?
MS: Yes, we, I mean we knew before we started shooting anything because when we were in the writer's room in pre-production we broke out the first, you know, half dozen or so episodes that was encompassing the time that Ben was going to be in Washington.
And what we realized was we wanted Ben to do a good job in Washington and that… what that meant was that he was going to get an opportunity to keep going with that job and with Jen Barkley, with Kathryn Hahn's character.
And so then it became an issue of all right well what causes a guy who', you know, career is kind of moving in this cool direction to come back to tiny Pawnee, Indiana. And there's only one thing that would really do that and that's Leslie.
So we just decided to sort of shape the episode around him just deciding look, this is my priority, Leslie is my priority and that everything else is in second place. So we knew before we even started the season that we were going to have him propose and come back when he was done with his arc he was going to - it was going to end with him proposing.
So I actually… yes, I wrote the scene when we were in Washington.
AP: Well I remember we had dinner that night when we were in Washington and Schur said I had just wrote the scene where you and… where Ben proposed to you.
AS: That's right.
MS: Yes, that's right.
AS: Yes I think also it was really… it was really great writing that, you know, the episode before this one was the episode where Ben and April actually meet the candidate that they've been working for and it isn't exactly an inspiring, you know, it doesn't exactly lend itself to kind of an inspiring figure in Washington.
And so the work that they've been doing there compared with Pawnee and sort of the relationships that Ben and April have there and the immediate results they see from hard work in a place like Pawnee. It makes the whole kind of idea of going back there a lot more attractive as well.
Q: This show really is an excellent example of an ensemble comedy. How is this proposal going to affect the other characters’ stories?
AP: Well, you know that no matter what Leslie will involve and include everyone in her plans all the time. This engagement will be said of everybody's engagement.
AS: America's engagement.
AP: Certainly there's a upcoming kind of, you know, where everyone's reacting to it in different ways and being included in different ways. And also how Leslie kind of handles - Leslie and Ben handle distance and jobs and what comes next.
And, you know, the balance of what's going on in their professional life and their personal life, that's a lot of the stuff that's coming up, you know, in the short-term.
Q: Is there any potential to see a “Bridezilla” side to Leslie, considering she’s already a little bit of a loveable control freak?
AS: I think bridezilla, which is a term that I personally dislike, is a term that is a little bit - and I don't mean to apply that you are this way… but it's a little bit misogynistic because it's a way to… it's like when every time two women are up for an award or something, it gets described as a cat fight.
And that is always very annoying to me... and it's like, when two men are up for an award they don't say, it's a penis fight or something. And I think that bridezilla implies that it's a person who is incredibly self-centered and who wants to make everything all about her.
And I would say that one of the main characteristics of Leslie as a character is that she is very other-directed and she cares very deeply about her friends and the people who are around her. And… that she would want her wedding to be as much a celebration of the people that she's friends with and the town that she's in as she would making it about herself.
So, not saying that there is going to be a wedding or anything but I think the whole idea of her character is that she is… she will walk to the end of the earth for her friends and so she is not a person who is going to make it all about her.
Q: I don’t know if I’m being a total nerd, but was the box that Ben used for the engagement ring the same box he used to give her the Knope 2012 pin last season?
MS: You're right.
AP: You are being a total nerd and we love how much of a nerd you are that you noticed that, because we are all total nerds as well.
AS: It's the box that Ben put the Knope 2012 pin in and that Leslie then returned to him with the Washington Monument figurine in in the season four finale. It's a very important box.
AP: At the end of the season we're all going - at the end - on the show then we're all going to jump into the box and then fly away.
AS: The box is a time machine.
Q: Going into this week’s upcoming episode, what can you tell us about Leslie meeting Ben’s parents for the first time?
AP: Well it's… how much do we talk about without spoilers? Well, we're really excited. We know who the actors are...
AS: And they are so great.
AP: ...they are so great, we have Glen Hedley who is amazing. And...
MS: And Jonathan Banks.
AP: ...yes, and Jonathan Banks and who plays...
MS: Mike Ehrmantraut [on Breaking Bad].
AP: ..yes, who plays Ben's intimidating dad. And it's a rate peek into kind of Ben's world and family and that dynamic. And so it's the kind of a combination of like, a high stress party combined with relatives, which always is a mix… is a bad mix.
MS: I love the idea of Ben's father being just a little terrifying. I think it fits in really well with the character of Ben. It's really funny and Jonathan Banks was hilarious.
AS: Yes, they were both great and Kulap Vilaysack who plays... Ben's dad's girlfriend is also great. And I think that it's like the… It was a very contained episode. We basically wanted to put Leslie and Ben and Ben's parents who hate each other and Ben's dad's girlfriend into a pressure cooker and just leave them there to simmer for 20 minutes.
So it turned out really, really well. And it's - there's some really just wonderful acting from everybody. And it's also by the way in a side note, is the return of John Ralphio Saperstein… comes back to help Tom with his new business ideas. So there's a lot going on and we're very happy with the way it all turned out.
Q: In terms of popular sitcoms in the past, weddings and engagements have often become “before and after” moments in the show – moments where the show shifted gears. Are you anticipating this proposal to be a defining moment in Parks and Recreation, or work it into the body of the show as it already exists?
MS: Well starting next week it's an hour-long medical drama so it definitely is a before and after kind of a situation. No, I don't… I mean, I think it's a watershed for the characters certainly but, you know, Ben showed up in Leslie's life a couple years ago and it became pretty clear, pretty quickly, that they were soul mates.
And I've said this before, but we had the intention over the life of the show of Leslie having a lot of different boyfriends who, you know, were good and bad in different ways and from whom she learned things about herself and about what she wanted in life and stuff.
And we had started doing that, she dated Louis C.K.’s character who was a police officer for a while and, you know, she was hung up on Paul Schneider's character for a while. And she dated Justin Theroux's character for a while and we were sort of moving in that direction, we wanted it to be a sort of a series of interesting relationships in the life of a self-possessed single lady.
And then Adam Scott showed up and then it all went to hell, because we realized that their two characters were just very good for each other. So we threw out that plan and just… and followed what made sense, which was that they were kind of soul mates.
And, you know, I don't… for that reason I don't think that them getting married or getting engaged changes that much about the way that the show is, it's just… it's official now and we get to do stories about them planning a wedding and sort of intertwining their lives officially in what that means for them and how it affects other people and stuff.
But I don't think it's going to… I don't think there's any massive, you know, change in the way that the show functions.
Q: We were pleasantly surprised by the proposal, and Mike, as you mentioned it’s so hard to keep a secret these days. How did you guys keep it under wraps?
MS: Well, there's a lot of things, you know. We were extra, extra, extra careful not to… when we shot outside and you know, and there may be paparazzi lurking around. We always would hide Leslie's engagement ring and… although, a couple shots of it did get snapped a while ago but…
We titled the episode Halloween Surprise and then we built it around what you think is the surprise, which is that they… Leslie and Anne surprised Jerry and he has a devastating fart attack. So that was meant to sort of throw people off the scent. [Laughs]
And I don't know, we just didn't… we just tried not to telegraph where we were going too much, you know. Like Adam said, we tried to build in - in the first four episodes we tried to build in that Ben was having a good time and was working really hard at this job in Washington that he cared about…. but also that there were things about the job that sort of annoyed him, like the politician that he was working for who was kind of a robot who didn't really care about anything. And that was contrasted when he called Leslie at the end of that episode and she was so revved up and just wanted to just put boots on the ground and fix this problem in her town.
And you saw on his face and in his delivery that he just liked that better, you know. So we just tried to… just not to telegraph in the storytelling where we were going. But the goal is that once it happens you think back and you think, oh yes, that makes perfect sense.
So it's just very meticulous, you know, writing and re-writing and story breaking and a lot of discussions with the actors about, you know, where we're going so that they know how to play different things and how to kind of give certain clues without giving everything away.
And then just… asking everybody on our production staff not to leak stuff to the Internet. [Laughs]
'Parks and Recreation' airs Thursday nights at 9:30/8:30c on NBC.